Agora Lledó International School has already begun the 2017/2018 academic year, ahead of other schools, with the more than 500 pupils in Infant and Primary Education starting last week. The aim is to help them adjust to the school environment after the summer holidays, make school start dates compatible with professional life for parents, and adapt our class times to international calendars, which have more school days than the Spanish calendar.
For school headmaster, Luis Madrid, the most notable change made this coming year is the implementation of the International Baccalaureate separate from the national Baccalaureate. This is motivated by the results obtained in the last academic year: a 100% pass rate and an average score 6 points above the world average. For this reason, the decision has been made to focus on this academic qualification, and ensure that Agora Lledó remains a leading school in these studies. Also in the field of internationalisation, this year the school will also be implementing the IEYC (International Early Years Curriculum) in 5th Infant Education, and the IPC programme (International Primary Curriculum) in 1st and 2nd Primary, which will mean offering international studies throughout this entire academic stage, and will allow us to prepare pupils to face the challenges of their further studies from a young age.
This year, robotics will continue to be an important pillar, as we open up new ways of working with technology, and there will be more optional subjects available in Secondary Education and Baccalaureate, many of which will focus on new technologies. To encourage healthy habits, a break-time area has been added to the dining room, where the pupils will be able to take part in fun and recreational supervised activities, or rest in a comfortable space after they’ve eaten. In addition, we will consolidate the format of project work in Primary Education, and carry on offering continuous training for teachers so that they are able to increase their knowledge, working with new educational techniques and methods. The GAVEA project, the use of tablets in the classroom, will be expanded to include 3rd ESO.
All the objectives and projects set out for the new academic year have been designed to continue the good work of the last school year, from which Luis Madrid highlights the excellent academic results obtained in the Selectividad exams and the PISA tests, the improvements to the academic support programme for Secondary Education pupils with difficulties, and the pupils’ sporting and musical achievements, “which have set the bar high for this coming year”, and which will be emphasised this year by adding an hour in the afternoon for the students to have time to train or rehearse.
The headmaster is also satisfied with the good results from the foreign exchange programmes, which were both expanded and enhanced. This academic year “our intention is to continue expanding them, with the objective that by the time the pupils reach Baccalaureate they have all had an international experience, in line with the school’s educational project, and to serve as prior experience for those who decide to study abroad.”
Finally, Luis Madrid addresses all pupils and members of the school to “wish them a good year, in which our targets are high but we’re going to work together to improve and excel once again”.
You’re young. You go to school, you study, you do your homework, and you pass your exams. You play extracurricular sport, and show talent. The hours of training start to increase, as does your schoolwork and the demand from both areas. You want to be a good student, but you also want to be an elite athlete, so you’ll have choose one. Or maybe not?
Since it opened more than 15 years ago, Agora Lledó International School has been developing the Adaptations for Athletes programme. The mission of this project is to help pupils to combine their academic studies with their participation in professional sport, so that they can continue with the two areas and achieve high performance in both.
Each case is dealt with individually. Each pupil is assigned a tutor who, along with the family, adapts and co-ordinates the academic assignments, exams, timetables, and holidays to fit in with the demands of each pupil’s sport.
“The validation of certain subjects provides me with valuable time which I dedicate to the studying and homework that I can’t do at home given that in the evenings I train for 3 to 4 hours a day”, highlights Alejandro Rovatti, a pupil at the school and high-level swimmer, who adds that “when a competition coincides with an exam, the teachers are happy to bring forward or postpone the exams so that I can organise my time better and study to achieve good academic results, as well as concentrate on the competition”.
For Pablo Domínguez, who has been in the Adaptations for Athletes programme for eight years as a long-distance runner, the way the programme adapts to suit each academic stage has been vital. In his case, Secondary Education subjects were validated, and in Baccalaureate he was exempt from homework. As a result, he was able to take advantage of his time to study the exam topics.
The great flexibility of the programme and full willingness of the teaching staff to help and evaluate the pupils outside of standard teaching times are the fundamental aspects which guarantee the students’ academic and sporting success. Pupil and golfer Patricia Martín expresses her appreciation for all the help she received over several years from the school and teachers, “postponing exams, explaining to me what they were doing in class while I was at a championship and making sure I was able to take advantage of my free time to get ahead with my schoolwork”, which has enabled her to achieve good grades and continue playing golf.
Gymnast Paula Reyes, Spanish champion, former pupil of Agora Lledó, and current Medicine student at the University of Valencia, expresses similar feelings. For her, being where she is today “wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the school”, given that as well as the help offered to the sportspeople on the Adaptations for Athletes programme, she was also able to use the school’s facilities to train when she had free time.
The Adaptations for Athletes programme has been a priority at Agora Lledó International School since it opened. Among the sportspeople who have been able to benefit from the programme over the years there are first division football players, members of the Spanish squash team, gymnasts who compete in both rhythmic gymnastics Spanish Championships and in the Queen’s Cup, and yachtsmen and women, as well as others. One standout example is golfer Sergio Garcia from Castellón, who is a former pupil of the Cooperativa Rey Don Jaime whose teachers went on to found Agora Lledó International School, and is the recent winner of the Masters of Augusta 2017 and one of the best golfers in the world.
Agora Lledó International School’s desire to help its pupils to combine their studies with other demands is not limited just to the Adaptations for Athletes programme. Given their status as a school which is integrated with the Music Conservatoire, there is also an Adaptations for Musicians programme so that the pupils can find the balance between their academic life and professional music.
At Agora Portals International School, music is part of our pupils’ comprehensive education. Through music education, the students can more easily develop valuable abilities such as effort, self-improvement, sensitivity, organisation, teamwork, etc. Given its importance, the school is also a conservatoire, an Integrated Music Centre, authorised to teach the Elementary and Professional Diplomas in Music. The Agora Portals choir is part of the school’s educational project in that it provides pupils with an extracurricular activity which enables them to continue with and advance in their music education.
Throughout the last eight years, the choir has given numerous high-level performances both within and outside school, and its participation at well-known places such as the most important auditorium in Mallorca, as well as its collaboration with other choirs and groups, such as the Palma Municipal Band, or the Balearic Symphony Orchestra, stand out. This project goes beyond the pupils’ music education and helps them to develop other skills and areas of knowledge.
In charge of the Agora Portals Choir is Frederique Sizaret, a teacher at the school, who we have had the opportunity to interview.
Frederique Sizaret, French Mezzo-Soprano, finished her studies at the Conservatoire de Tours by coming top of her class in violin, chamber music, and singing. In 1996, she did a Master’s in musicology, and that same year, became part of the “Centre de Formation Lyrique” of the Paris Opera. Federique’s career as an opera singer took place in Germany, in the Wupretal, Essen, Gelsenkirchen, Saarbrucjen, and Stuttgart theatres. When she moved to Mallorca she continued with her musical career, but also got involved in the world of education. Over the last three years, she has worked in teaching, both in individual and group vocal technique, running choir classes, such as the Agora Portals International School Children’s Choir.
Q: How did the idea of creating the Agora Portals Choir come about?
A: All the children at school have one choir session per week. But, very quickly, we realised that some of them wanted more, both on a vocal level and in terms of theatrical expression. Some had the desire to learn to control their voice just like any other instrument, and to develop choreography based on the pieces learnt. So for this reason, we decided to create the Agora Portals Choir.
Q: In what ways does being part of the choir benefit the development of the pupils’ music education?
A: First of all, they develop their voice. Just like any other instrument, the voice requires its own technique, and although it is the human being’s most natural instrument, its technique is closely related to physical and psychological development. A 6-or-7-year-old child sings in a very natural way, and finds within their body the technical resources necessary to a healthy voice. In adolescence, the natural “embarrassment” which appears in many of them causes the voice to close, like the body. Working on the voice regularly enables better control of this “problem”.
Secondly, they develop their ear. Many of the instruments that the pupils play are individual ones. Singing in a choir forces the pupils to be with other voices, and requires vertical listening. In fact, this practice brings out a great deal of happiness in the children, when they realise that they can sing with two, three, or four voices, and control of their tone very clearly improves.
Thirdly, they develop “sight reading”. Often, we work from memory, but as an exercise, I also make the children sharpen their skills using sheet music. It’s something very new for them: choir sheet music contains various voices, an accompaniment, sometimes made up of various instruments, and doing this requires a very specific concentration, both at a purely reading level and at an auditory level.
Q: What other areas of knowledge are developed from the music education project?
A: We have rehearsals in groups of three or four pupils to complement the weekly group rehearsals. These sessions enable me to get to know each child’s voice and their possibilities, and monitor their development. The class with smaller groups allows me to teach them bodily and theatrical techniques to help them know how to act in a stage environment. Furthermore, they learn biology: I explain the anatomy of the voice, what happens when we produce sound, what they can do when it doesn’t work, so that they learn to control their voice mechanically and acquire a more intense awareness of their bodies, with which they avoid problems with aphonia or dysphonia in the future.
Q: What do the pupils enjoy most?
A: The theatrical aspect is probably what the children enjoy the most! Because they dance, they speak in public, they learn to forget their natural embarrassment, and they sing in front of their classmates. In this sense, it’s difficult to maintain the balance between a classic repertoire (with many benefits for the development of the voice), and more popular songs which allow them to express themselves on a more theatrical level, but which do not produce the same results on a musical and vocal level.
For example, we did a project on a wonderful piece by John Rutter, “Mass of the children”, with the participation of another children’s choir in Mallorca, an adult choir, and an orchestra made up of school teachers. The music was religious, and magnificent, but, although the children did very well, they didn’t enjoy it as much as they do the modern songs. It’s difficult to ensure that they develop their sensitivity in this field!
Agora Portals Choir performing “Missa of the Children”
Q: Could you tell us about the musical projects you have done, and what you’d highlight from each of them?
A: I set three big projects a year: the Christmas Concert, with classic and modern songs; the end-of-year project; and one that’s different each year. We mustn’t forget that the children sing everything from memory, and that each programme is an average of twelve songs, with several voices.
Firstly, I’d like to highlight the project that we did alongside the Blavets de Lluc and the University Choir, which enabled the children in the Agora Choir to meet other children from Mallorca, the Blavets, a professional choir of children who also have music integrated into their curriculum. Similarly, the children had the opportunity to work with an orchestra of professionals, conducted by Joan Company, director of the University of the Balearic Islands Choir. The work was very positive for the children. We joined together all these groups in the Church of Palma, and the concert was a success. We brought together more than 300 people!
Lastly, I’d like to point out that this project would have been impossible without the help of the school, in all aspects.
Last year’s project was, most probably, the most ambitious that we’ve done up until now! All this began with the desire to create a programme of songs from Musicals (Matilda, Les Misérables, Singing in the rain, Grease, Sister Act, Lion King…). But singing without moving was impossible. So, we asked a choreographer for help to adjust the movements for each of the songs. The same thing happened with the instruments, the piano wasn’t enough. David León (the school’s music director) helped us by writing a musical arrangement for an ensemble made up of teachers from the school, with violin, viola, flute, oboe, clarinet, and trumpet. We also needed to decorate the stage, which the art teacher, Juta Fita, took care of, creating of two decorated screens with the Primary pupils. In addition, we made use of the technical resources offered in the school’s auditorium. We even had a rain machine! Truly, for me, and for the pupils, this project was a high point in the work of the choir, and it was possible thanks to the help of the entire school.
Q: What is this year’s project? When will it take place?
A: Although the idea is still up in the air, this year I’d like to do a project which brings together several choirs of children from around the world, with videos. Thanks to one of my previous jobs, I have contacts who are singers from different countries, and many of them now work with children. The idea would be to choose various songs in the original language, have the children from other countries record them, and on the day of the concert, our choir would sing the same song. As well as including, of course, choreographed dance!
Q: What has developing the Portals Choir offered you on a personal and professional level?
A: This work has provided me with a completely different perspective on the voice. I had always worked with adults, and although children have a much more natural voice than adults, every day I have to find different resources to work with them on a technical level: games, images, working on bodily expression, etc. It’s a constant search, but it’s also exciting! On the other hand, developing this project in the school environment has made my work and that of the children much easier: from the start the director and the pedagogy team understood that the music could provide children with a dimension beyond the “classic” education. Considering music as another curricular subject is the best gift we could give the pupils both for their music education and their education as people.